Lisa WalkerIt is difficult to pin point exactly what it is that makes something precious, especially within contemporary jewellery.
Traditionally, for something to be considered precious it must obtain certain features. This would usually include a high intrinsic value to emphasise status or luxury, sentimental value, originality or rarity...but are all of these characteristics profitable?

Historical influences and challenges throughout contemporary craft have formed a variety of attitudes surrounding preciousness and these values have dramatically shaped a new understanding and appreciation of different materials. To this day, what we perceive to be precious within contemporary jewellery is still tested, especially the different ways in which it can be defined.

Min-Ji ChoExamples of contemporary makers who have challenged these views are Susan Collis and her work that makes precious materials resemble inanimate objects and stains; Min-Ji Cho who makes undoubtedly beautiful work with materials as simple as rubber gloves and pearls; Lisa Walker, deliberately celebrating the use of glue and found objects to challenge the notions of traditional beauty and Lin Cheung who uses precious materials to evoke sentimentality between maker, viewer and wearer.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘Precious’ as ‘of great value; not to be wasted or treated carelessly’ and ‘greatly loved or treasured’. Here, the expression of both monetary and sentimental value highlights the two main interpretations of what we regard as the meaning of precious.
Adornment dates back thousands of years, exposing the human urge to express ourselves and identify one another through decoration. From this, materials have developed considerably, through use of natural objects such as bone, shell and leather to highly manufactured metals and synthetics. With these developments in materials comes a natural urge to express personal wealth by purchasing items of higher value, using ancient human instinct to identify our individuality and status through symbolically advertising our commodities.Lin Cheung

Material value will undoubtedly play a large part in determining the ‘preciousness’ of a piece of jewellery, especially the use of gold and its surrounding connotations and costs of sourcing. With the price of gold being so high and the way in which it had almost become an elitist material, the Industrial Revolution brought about a considerable change. The introduction of plastics and synthetics really took off during the Industrial Revolution and the manufacturing process became cheaper, increasing accessibility and pushing the boundaries of jewellery to rapidly expand. As a wider range of materials became available, ‘non precious’ materials became the forefront of design.

In addition to material value, there are a number of other factors that can make contemporary jewellery precious, including, sentimentality towards a piece and the originality or rarity of a piece.

Lisa WalkerThere has been one noticeable shift in the perception of value, encompassing not only the commodity of precious metals but the understanding that jewellery could be aesthetically or emotionally significant beyond its financial worth. The distinction between man and machine that arose through the Industrial Revolution allowed jewellery to become a personal expression. This became central to contemporary jewellery, enabling each piece to expose and highlight the makers’ skill which emphasises another strong factor within which jewellery becomes precious.

There are still many parallels surrounding the connotations of preciousness. Jewellers who have pushed the boundaries of design like the aforementioned Lisa Walker and Min-Ji Cho are highly respected, successful and must be praised for their commitment to humble materials and the high profit they have achieved through their use. It must be noted that the way in which contemporary design has been influenced by exposure to new materials, the introduction of ‘wearable art’ and the contemporary makers that have challenged preconceived ideas, have drastically changed our views on preciousness today.

Pendant 2012/chair seat thread by Lisa Walker

Rebecca Morrison

Pricing Calculator